Durham wildlife group gets half a loaf

More than two dozen volunteers and supporters from Durham’s Barry Kirshner Foundation showed up at the April 24 meeting of the county Board of Supervisors to ask for a four-fold expansion of the facility. And while they got some of what they wanted, they didn’t get all of it.

The foundation, which is home to several tigers, two lions, a leopard, reptiles, birds and several other exotic animals, applied to the county Planning Commission last month, asking to be able to expand its use permit to house up to 40 additional exotic animals.

Roberta Kirshner, the founder and head of the nonprofit foundation, said she needed the extra animals to round out her stock and continue to meet an increasing demand for exhibits and off-site programs at schools with the animals.

But the Planning Commission vetoed the expansion on a tied vote last month, after hearing vehement opposition to the expansion from Kirshner’s neighbors. The neighborhood, they said, is too small for the operation, and a loose tiger or lion could easily kill someone.

The supervisors, considering Kirshner’s appeal of the veto, heard the same complaints but came up with a compromise after listening to more than two hours of back-and-forth discussions from opponents and supporters of the expansion.

In the end, the supervisors approved a more modest expansion than Kirshner asked for. It can accept 20 additional animals, one being a small snow leopard, and replace any of the large cats that it has as they die, the supervisors decided.

Supervisor Kim Yamaguchi suggested the compromise. Curt Josiassen and Bob Beeler voted for it, and Jane Dolan voted against it. Mary Anne Houx wasn’t there for the vote.

The vote incensed several opponents of the center, who walked out of the meeting room loudly complaining about it. But while she didn’t get all of the additional animals she’d asked for, Kirshner walked out of the room smiling broadly, after publicly thanking the supervisors.